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PG&E, join the 21st Century

Original post made by Walter_E_Wallis on Nov 3, 2010

the gas cloud over South Palo Alto was, we are told, the result of an intentional maintenance release of pipeline pressure to allow inspection. The announcement further said that, when the line was put back in service there would be further release as the line was purged of oxygen.
Nice for them. Anyone who has had an air conditioner repaired in the past few years know that the old days of blowing off the charge before servicing are gone. You must, at some expense, pay to have the refrigerant pumped out and reclaimed. When the repaired unit is placed back in service, the purged air must be scrubbed of refrigerant, again at some expense. To be consistent, PG&E should be required to pump the gas in the section to be worked on into an adjacent active part of the system, and while purging the line of air any contained gas should be reclaimed. Neither of these requirements is either technically difficult or onerously expensive, but If I cannot let the 3 pounds of refrigerant in my car escape, it would behoove PG&E to stop the much larger atmospheric discharge of their pollutant.

Comments (19)

Posted by qq, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Perhaps the release of methane from this pipe will be the trigger for a mass extinction?

Web Link

I think the benefit of the pipe inspection far outweighs the environmental risk of the methane release needed to do the inspection.

As for methane being a pollutant, I hope you refrain from eating beans. ;-)

qq


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2010 at 6:25 pm

At the very least PG & E (who until recently we thought didn't operate in Palo Alto) should have informed PAPD and PAFD. When a gas smell occurs they should at least know what is happening.

Pandemonium in many of our schools and fear since San Bruno means that gas is now a more serious concern than it used to be.

Some good manners would be a start.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

qq, the operative word is "needed". The release would be "needed" only if alternatives were not available, and alternatives are indeed available as noted in my article.
It is general consensus that the breakdown products of what we eat are all considered pollutants.


Posted by VoxPop, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Walter's right. qq, methane is a pollutant and people are working to find a solution to it. Dairy farmers in particular are aware of this and are taking steps to deal with it.


Posted by Long Time Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Good point Walter.
Right on, and thanks for the story!


Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2010 at 11:23 am

PG&E and/or Palo Alto Utilities really screwed up on this one. The sheer magnitude of panic that struck the near by schools and businesses shows that PG&E and/or Palo Alto Utilities should have contacted local authorities prior to this planned release. For an hour plus three schools were the scene of children, teaches and administrators fearing an explosive situation similar to San Bruno. A simple phone to the Palo Alto Utilities SCADA center AND Palo Alto Police/Fire would have lessened the panic and fears. Bad form.


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:42 pm

"when the line was put back in service there would be further release as the line was purged of oxygen."

This is proper procedure, as any scientific literate could tell you. Believe it or not, if someone lit a match inside an operating gas pipeline, the match would immediately extinguish and nothing else would happen. Natural gas cannot burn (or blow up) by itself; it needs a proper oxygen admixture. You don't want to risk leaving oxygen in a pipeline, or in your gas pipes. That's why they purge them.

If Mr Wallis wants gas purge products in his household pipes, well, it's a free country. But I recommend his neighbors get at least a block away, call the fire department, and have their fire insurance policites handy.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"...and while purging the line of air any contained gas should be reclaimed."
Pay attention, lad.


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm

"Pay attention, lad."

Wise up, dad. If you got a commercially viable method for separating air from methane in the required quantities, then patent it, make your gazillions, and run for governor.


Posted by Midtown shopper, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Quite frankly, at this point, the urgency is to check these old lines for potential problems and I am glad PG&E checked them, regardless of the method used. Giving Palo Alto advance warning of the procedure would have been a good idea though.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"If you got a commercially viable method for separating air from methane in the required quantities, then patent it,"
I fear that Linde, Union Carbide and a bunch of other companies have molecular sieves and other processes that do just fine. In the interim I might agree to letting them flare off as they do in refineries.


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Nice Googleing, but comes up short. The applicable words are "commercially viable" and "required quantities." Linde, Union Carbide, and other volume gas separators use refrigeration-based processes which do not adapt to field utilities use. They are too huge to move around.

Ever seen a 7,500 hp electric motor? They used one to drive the first-stage air-liquefication compressors at a place I once worked.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

But the pump they use to reclaim refrigerant is 1/3 HP. Given the gas line purge with no methane to atmosphere problem as an assignment [paid, of course] I might do a nitrogen purge recirculated through a catalyst and a getter until all the O2 was consumed, recover the Nitrogen in 3500 psig flasks until line pressure was one atmosphere, then readmit gas, accepting the 2% reduction in BTU for a very short time. The dirty nitrogen could then be taken to a gas plant for purifying. Line section inspected, no methane loss to atmosphere, off the shelf equipment and engineering.
I must confess the largest electric motor I worked with was a 2500 HP synchronous mill drive; anything larger we used steam turbines.


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2010 at 10:14 am

"But the pump they use to ..."

Like I said, if you got a commercially viable method for separating air from methane in the required quantities, then patent it and make your gazillion. Since most enterprises favor processes that don't lose them money and can actually do the job, commercially viable here means transportable to the job site and cost-effective overall. Keeping the local warmies happy is not usually sufficient ROI.


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Oblige me a final rant.

In 30 years this country has gone from Yankee Ingenuity to the Big American Whine. To wit: how far would Hewlett and Packard have got if they wrote letters to the IRE Transactions complaining about the lack of decent audio oscillators, instead of inventing and marketing their own? Or if Wozniak and Jobs had contented themselves with bitching to the PCC about user-unfriendly microcomputers, instead of inventing the Apple? Yeah, they'd all savor their momentary moral superiority, but in the end who cares?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

30 years ago, while trouble shooting some Syntex fume hood exhaust systems I told them that the days of using the atmosphere as a sewer were going away.
PG&E dumps to the atmosphere because they can. Treat them as we treat refineries by heavy fines for any release and they would buy off the shelf equipment to do as I suggested. If you worked in a responsible position in an air products plant you should know that the processes I describe are not unique nor unheard of. They are scalable to fit the job size. You still do not make your point other than you bear animus toward me. Me, whom EVERYBODY loves.


Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
on Nov 5, 2010 at 7:28 pm

" I told them that the days of using the atmosphere as a sewer were going away."

Walter, you are a big defender of coal and other hydrocarbons. The atmosphere has always been the sewer for the use of these fuels. Why are you getting so sensitive, now?

The solution is to get away from hydrocarbons, and replace them with nuclear generated electricity...combined with increased efficiencies and alternative energy systems.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2010 at 4:29 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Everything in it's time, Greg. We just elected the author of California's nuclear power ban to a 3rd term, so we may not in our lifetime see another nuke built in California.
The real harm to the environment from carbon fuels is as nothing as compared to the damage the "stupidity tax" of unjustifiable restrictions on fuels. "Global Warming" is on a par with the Santa myth, except to goodies in the Warmie myth are left under the tree of opportunist Gore and of others who profit by controling the flow of energy to the public.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2010 at 4:29 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Everything in it's time, Greg. We just elected the author of California's nuclear power ban to a 3rd term, so we may not in our lifetime see another nuke built in California.
The real harm to the environment from carbon fuels is as nothing as compared to the damage the "stupidity tax" of unjustifiable restrictions on fuels. "Global Warming" is on a par with the Santa myth, except to goodies in the Warmie myth are left under the tree of opportunist Gore and of others who profit by controling the flow of energy to the public.


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